The Medway Towns - St Mary's Church, Chatham

St Mary's Church sits deserted and unused at the top of the hill on Dock Road. Sandwiched between Gun Wharf, the council offices, and Fort Amherst, and right next to Dock Road, one of the main roads into Chatham, it's a strangely quiet and peaceful place.

St Mary's Church, Chatham, viewed from the south-east.

St Mary's was the at centre of Chatham, when Chatham was just a riverside village of a few dozen houses. After hundreds of years of worship there, and having been rebuilt several times, St Mary's closed its doors to its congregation in the early 1970s. On a personal note, St Mary's was my family's parish church, and one of my uncles was a choirboy there. He wouldn't thank me for saying when that was!

The rear of St Mary's Church, Chatham, viewed from the west. The church is boarded up now, and the last burial was over a century ago. The new Chatham Burial Ground, now the Town Hall Gardens, was the churchyard's replacement and was itself replaced by the huge cemetery on Maidstone Road.

St Mary's is one of the oldest buildings in the Medway Towns - parts go back to the Normans, and there has been a place of worship of some sort here since pagan times, long before Bishop Justus was granted land by Ethelbert, King of Kent, and in 604AD built the cathedral along the river at Rochester to practice the "new" religion of Christianity.

"The oldest thing in the Medway Towns"; a stone tablet 39" high and 19" wide depicting the goddess Euphrosyne is built into the porch. It was originally discovered built into the Norman wall of the chapel which once stood on the site of the present porch, and is believed to date from when Greek traders travelled up the Medway.

The Southern Section of the Churchyard

Most of the graves which survive are from the 19th century, but there are some earlier ones around.

Most people don't realise that this churchyard has some classic gravestones, complete with the symbolism of the time - lanterns, cherubs and skulls adorn several, and the carvings range from simple to ornate.

The boundary stones, bricked up doorway and memorial in the western wall of the churchyard of St Mary's Church, Chatham. On the western edge of the churchyard you can still see reminders of where you are. On the western side of the path is a thick brick wall, around 8 feet high, with two white boundary stones set into it, as well as a bricked up entrance and a memorial.

The boundary stones in the western wall of the churchyard of St Mary's Church, Chatham. The boundary stone on the left is inscribed:

WD

No106

This marks the beginning of the land belonging to the War Department, which extended southwards towards Chatham town centre.

The boundary stone on the right is inscribed with an anchor and

No5

This marks the beginning of Royal Naval land, which extended northwards to St Mary's Island.

The arrowhead boundary marker in the western wall of the churchyard of St Mary's Church, Chatham. Moving northwards along the wall on the west edge of the churchyard, at the bottom, before it turns westwards is another boundary stone, this time it looks like an iron plate embossed with an arrowhead and:

BO

The boundary stone in the western wall of the churchyard of St Mary's Church, Chatham. Turning the corner, you can see another Royal Naval boundary stone on the edge of the wall, again inscribed with an anchor and, this time:

No4

If anyone knows where numbers 3, 2 and 1 are, please let me know.

The wall of the churchyard of St Mary's Church, Chatham, showing stacked stones to the left. In this corner of the churchyard, under walls running east to west and south to north, under a heavy covering of ivy, are a row of gravestones. These are some of the best-preserved gravestones in the churchyard, probably because of their sheltered position.

On the left of this photograph you can see a stack of stones which were either paving slabs, or gravestones in the process of being moved from other parts of the churchyard. I couldn't make out exactly what they were, so I'll have a closer look next time I visit.

Exposed stones visible under the ivy on the wall of the churchyard of St Mary's Church, Chatham. Some of the stones are visible in gaps in the hedge, but they're so covered in moss that you can't see whose they are.

The gravestone of Nathaniel, Ann and Barzillai Stroughill, buried in the churchyard of St Mary's Church, Chatham, Kent, UK in the 19th century. The leftmost stone on these walls, next to the "No4" marker, is engraved:

SACRED

To the memory of

NATHANIEL STROUGHILL

of this parish, plumber and glazier

who departed this life

on the 12th of April 1812

Aged 41 years

also ANN, daughter of

JAMES and REBECCA YOUNG

who died in her infancy

also BARZILLAI STROUGHILL

who departed this life

on the 25th of November 1814

aged 69 years.

Also of the above named

JAMES YOUNG

who departed this life

on the 20th of November 1838

aged 70 years

... of REBECCA YOUNG wife

of the above James Young

who departed this life

on the 31st of March 1846 aged 75

The gravestone of John King, buried in the churchyard of St Mary's Church, Chatham, Kent, UK in 1745. Opposite the west wall, next to the path, is a row of gravestones. These look like some of the oldest in the churchyard. The one in this photograph has appeared in several books, and is inscribed:

Here lies the body of

JOHN KING

late Master House

Carpenter of His

Majestys Yard at

Sheerness. He died

the 29th of November

1745 in the 55th Year

of His Age

One of the things that keeps occurring to you as you wander round the churchyard, is the sheer age of some of these things. This stone itself was erected 31 years before the thirteen colonies of the United States of America unanimously declared independence from the British Crown.

The view eastwards across the southern section of the churchyard of St Mary's Church, towards Fort Amherst. Looking eastwards across the church path, John King's gravestone can be seen to the left of centre, next to the broken gravestone. The stones have been cleared to a certain extent, especially on the western side of the churchyard. In the background, across Dock Road, is Fort Amherst.

The brick vault to members of the Hooper, Burkett, Spencer and Manley families. Just to the right of the tree in the picture above, there is a red brick vault with a stone lid. There are several tombs in the churchyard, some brick and some marble.

The top of the brick vault to members of the Hooper, Burkett, Spencer and Manley families.

In Memory ...

... ua HOOPER who departed ...

... 6th of August 1703, Aged 66 ...

... Mary Wife of the above departed this ...

... the 12th of Septr 1727, Aged 70 Years ...

... HOOPER Son of the above departed this ...

... the 24th of August 1741, Aged 70 Years ...

... AH BURKETT departed this Life ...

... e 19th of April 1781, Aged 79 Years.

... RLOTTE SPENCER departed this Life

... 17th of January 1784, Aged 21 Years.

... NRY SPENCER departed this Life

... of September 1784, Aged 60 Years

... THONY MANLEY (late first Assistant of ...

... Majesty's Dockyard Chatham) departed ...

... Life the 16th of May 1797 Aged 47 Years

... OMAS BURKETT departed this Life ...

... 19th of August 1797, Aged 70 Years.

... AH SPENCER, departed this Life ...

... 8th of August 1818, Aged 88 Years ...

In this Vault

are deposited the Remains of

... AM SPENCER Esqr who depated this

... e the 2nd of March 1835 Aged 66 Years

... nd also of his Daughter

Sarah Amelia

... Wife of the Revd H.J.D ...

... this life the 7th of April 18 ...

Next to the church porch, under a frame which used to hold the sign advertising the church for "Sympathetic conversion to office space", is a raised area of ground. On top sits the base of a memorial, missing its original cross, with the following inscription:

The grave of Lydia and Clementina Cordon, buried in the churchyard of St Mary's Church, Chatham, Kent, UK.

In

loving memory of

LYDIA

wife of CAPTAIN

SIR JAMES A CORDON R.N. K.C.B.

Born May 12th 1783

Died July 29th 1835

Also of CLEMENTINA JANE.

Their infant daughter

Captain Sir James Cordon R.N. was born in 1782 in Aberdeenshire, and fought as a Master's Mate under Rear-Admiral Nelson in 1798 at the Battle of the Nile. He fought in the war of 1812 between the British Empire and the United States of America, leading the expedition up the Potomac, and took part in the Battle of Baltimore and attacked Fort McHenry. In 1832 he became Superintendent of HM Dockyard Chatham, and his wife died three years later and was, perhaps unsurprisingly, buried in the parish churchyard along the road from his work by the church porch, as would have befitted Lady Lydia, the wife of a Knight.

Sir James eventually became Admiral of the Fleet in 1868. He died in 1869 at Greenwich, and was buried in the grounds of Greenwich Hospital. In total, he served 75 years in the Royal Navy.

The Church Now

The church was used as a heritage centre for some time, but is now closed. It is apparently awaiting conversion to offices. More information is available from here. A similar fate probably awaits St John's Church, just along the road.

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